Photo courtesy of Pat Stewart
After graduating in 2018 with a decorated career at Maryland including as being a part of four-straight Final Four appearances and one national championship (2017), long stick midfielder Matt Neufeldt had hung up the cleats and crosse and already accepted a job in Real Estate.
He had planned to enter the working world in June before he received an important call. Neufeldt still had a remaining year of eligibility after being sidelined his sophomore year with a lower-body injury, but up until the call he hadn’t considered using it. Eight months later and four games into the 2019 season, Neufeldt is now relishing in his opportunity with the No. 8 Denver Pioneers and one last run at an NCAA title.
“It’s a funny situation,” Neufeldt said. “I didn’t even think I would use my fifth year. I had the job lined up and was ready to start. Fortunately, my high school coach [Jon Posner at the Culver Military Academy] and [Denver head coach Bill Tierney] have a great relationship so he put me in contact [with Tierney]. The transition itself couldn’t have gone any better. They’ve welcomed me here with open arms.”
Neufeldt was anything but a surprise to the Denver coaching staff. The defensive middie has been on the Pioneers’ radar since he attended the Culver Military Academy.
“We always knew Matt Neufeldt was going to be a great player,” coach Tierney said. “We were disappointed four or five years ago that we didn’t get him. But what jumps out at us now is that he continues to be a great player and he continues to do for us what hoped he would do which is get ground balls and play great defense.”
Neufeldt ultimately chose to play at Maryland right out of high school. A product of Naperville, Illinois, Neufeldt was determined to prove his talents that were fostered in the midwest amidst a high caliber east coast program. While his efforts were successful, the opportunity to return to his western roots and witness the expansion of the game was a no brainer.
“My first four years of college was spent trying to prove that a midwest kid could make it out east in the lacrosse world,” Neufeldt said. “Now, coming out here and seeing how much it’s grown and expanded and how much competition there is at such a high level it’s humbling. It’s like, ‘Wow, we can do this. It’s not just an east coast sport. It’s a national sport that everyone can be a part of and excel at.’ It’s definitely something that we’re looking to grow and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Since arriving on campus, Neufeldt has been an immediate fit in the lineup as he sports No. 20 and more importantly, has been enthusiastically embraced by the team.
“It’s really amazing,” coach Tierney said. “For Matt to come into this program — a program that has a unique culture to it and has demands that a lot of other programs don’t — he’s been able to come in seamlessly. Not only be able to play within our system, but to be respected by our guys…In some ways I think a fifth-year guy will come in and be a little bit of a wallflower; not say much, not want to ruffle any feathers and just kind of sneak in. Or, you have other guys that come in, especially with his kind of experience and think they’re something special. Matt has been neither. He’s just been himself. He’s just a friendly guy that fit right in.”
Neufeldt attributes his smooth transition to navigating the unique paradox of boasting a veteran presence with one of the most experienced resumes on the roster while simultaneously being a newcomer and having to learn the Denver lacrosse traditions.
“It’s like I’m a senior and a freshman at the same time,” Neufeldt said. “I did the orientation with all of the young guys, learning where all of the buildings on campus are, things like that. So, I’ve been able to have a great relationship with all of the young guys. But also living with the older guys and getting to pick their brains and see what they’ve learned for four years.
“I’m just trying to enjoy [the short experience] as much as I can while I’m here, but also make an impact.”
Neufeldt has filled the vacancy of 2018 graduate and LSM Sean Mayle on Denver’s wing play. Upon his arrival, coach Tierney proposed a challenge of collecting 50 ground balls by the end of the season. It’s a feat that Neufeldt already accomplished three times at Maryland. But with Trevor Baptiste no longer at the faceoff X, the Pioneers needed a boost from their wing play. Four games in, Neufeldt has 16 ground balls and forced eight turnovers to put him on pace to eclipse that goal by the end of the regular season.
Denver has benefited from Neufeldt’s performance thus far, but what has really impressed the coaching staff even more are his inherent instincts and ability to decipher a play before it occurs. At 5-foot-11, and 170 pounds, Neufeldt doesn’t rely on his stature to dominate his opponent, but rather his intellect.
“He’s so slick,” defensive coordinator John Orsen said. “He’s not the most athletic guy we have — he’d even tell you that — but he has great lacrosse IQ and you just can’t coach that. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time.”
“He’s really smart,” coach Tierney said. “He has the best defensive IQ of the whole team, as far as understanding what other teams are trying to do, he’s a little sneaky. He picks off passes, he can cover his guy, but he’s not this big physical guy like Dylan [Gaines], Dylan [Johnson], Colin [Squires] and Danny [Logan] are. He’s just a really lacrosse intelligent lacrosse player and a great addition to our program.”
Pios head to Chapel Hill
This weekend’s matchup is a familiar one. The Pioneers embark upon a stretch of five straight games away from Denver as they head to No. 20 North Carolina to play the Tar Heels and christen their new UNC Lacrosse and Soccer stadium.
“Lots of similarities,” coach Tierney said. “The fact that we’ve played them a lot and Coach Breschi’s coaching staff is my coaching staff [offensive coordinator David Metzbower and defensive coordinator Kevin Unterstein] back at Princeton in 2009. We know each other in and out. There may be some surprises because either they or we want to throw a little wrinkle into something just to have something different. But, there’s going to be no surprises. It’s going to be who executes better and who scores more goals really.”
Denver enters the contest coming off of back-to-back wins against NCAA newcomer Utah [15-6] and Cleveland State [16-8].
“It’s one of those games where you almost have to downplay the level of both teams,” coach Tierney said. “You have to downplay the knowledge of the other team’s coaching staff. You’ve got to downplay that you’re playing in a new stadium that [UNC] is going to be super excited about. You’ve got to downplay that the weather might not be so hot. It really comes down to who executes better in a lacrosse game on a given day because the teams are so similar.”
- Denver looks to elevate and tighten their game up against North Carolina after committing 20 turnovers against Utah and 11 against Cleveland State.
- North Carolina was edged 11-10 by Johns Hopkins in overtime last weekend
- Ethan Walker was named BIG EAST attackman of the week after a 12 point weekend including five goals and two assists against Cleveland State.
- Denver defeated a previously unbeaten UNC last year 10-6 on March 5, 2018.
- Denver attackman Austin French [upper-body] and defender Colin Squires [lower-body] will both be game-time decisions.
- Junior attack Ethan Walker and senior close defender Dylan Gaines were named to the 2019 Tewaaraton Award Watch List, which was announced by the committee on Tuesday.